Archive for December 10th, 2010

My Christmas present: Dell Vostro V130

My current laptops are all very old and weak:
– My Atom 1.6 Ghz HP netbook can run Ubuntu only, so Flash is unbearable in it. It’s my mom’s fallback laptop if her own Acer Ubuntu laptop dies (doesn’t seem very healthy atm).
– My Z-series MID Atom laptop at 1.2 Ghz is even slower. Otherwise, a nice laptop, but it hardware-crashes sometimes for some crazy reason. Laptop is promised to my brother.
– My Powerbook is from 2003, and it can’t render fast any site that has heavy javascript in it. Video is out of the question. Laptop is promised to a cousin of mine, to teach her kids.

My original idea was to go for a fully accessorized+adapters Macbook Air, something that would cost me about ~$2000+tax. The idea was that if I was to get such an expensive machine, I’d have to forgo any prospects for a new smartphone, new PC, or a tablet. Macbook Air would be a replacement for my laptop, desktop PC, and tablet, and I’d have to go by with whatever smartphone I could scrap from here and there.

And that was the idea until this week. With all the Wikileaks drama around though, I started thinking more about how I should spend my money. I’m a bit depressed about the whole state of affairs (about all things really, not just political), so I now find it to be pure vanity to go for an expensive laptop while I could go by with a cheaper one. If could find a laptop that could do what I need it to do for the most part (in my case, accelerated video playback), then I should be happy with that.

So today I bought the DELL Vostro V130. For $735+tax (price includes a “plant a tree for me” option 😉 ).

Sure it doesn’t run Mac OS X, sure it doesn’t have an nVidia GPU for even faster video acceleration, and sure it doesn’t have as much battery life. The CPU on my Vostro V130 is a 1.33 Ghz i3, which results in the same speed as the 1.86 Ghz Core2Duo found on one of the Macbook Air configurations, according to CPU benchmarks. But for a difference of over $1000, I prefer to stay with the Vostro. I’m simply not willing to pay that difference. Sure, I could have gone for the 11.6″ 1.86Ghz cheaper Macbook Air, but the price difference is still $600. I could buy a second laptop for that money! And if the Vostro dies within 2 years, I can still buy a faster one by then, and still have money left!

The main limitation of this model is its seriously weak battery life (not user replaceable), clocking at no more than 2:30 hours. But since I rarely leave home, and when I do I have either a car transformer, or hotel/airport plugs, I don’t really need much battery life.

There’s a good chance that my brother will lose his job this January in Greece, since his contract as an electrician runs out. There are simply better ways to use money than getting the coolest gadget that’s around. This is not meant as disrespect to the people who already bought the Macbook Air (two of my friends did), but rather as food for thought for everyone, including myself. That’s the reason I keep insisting non-professionals on buying cheap HD digicams from Canon instead of dSLRs or camcorders. Buy the model that does the minimum of what you need, and save money. Use your imagination and your skill to go around obstacles that other products do easier for a bigger sum of money. Difficult times are ahead.

Carson Daly Show shot with Canon dSLRs

I was watching the Carson Daly show late last night and I noticed how different their new reporting-style format looks to their old “live” audience-based format. There is very shallow depth of field (something that TV cameras only achieve if they zoom-in a lot), and lots of color grading. So the show now either uses RED Ones, or dSLRs. Unlikely to use HDV cameras with 35mm adapters. Since I counted 5 different cameras in the interview sections, it was obvious that dSLRs were used (five Red ONEs would be too expensive for this show). And lo-and-behold, towards the end of the show, one of the cameramen quickly captured in the frame one of the other cameramen. Their cameras are Canon dSLRs, either the 5D or the 7D.

If that was the 7D, I’m thinking that their whole setup (including lights, mics, cams, lenses, tripods, steadycams), probably didn’t cost them more than $15000, which is actually a bargain. Then I thought how much it would cost if you’d try to go super-bargain. I think that what the Carson Daly show does in terms of equipment, could be done for $1500. Sure the individual equipment wouldn’t be as good, but for someone scraping for cash, a Carson Daly-style show would still achieve a pleasurable look on the cheap too:

For the interview parts:
– Two Canon SD780 IS 720/30p digicams: $390 (on the sides, looking at the subjects). Otherwise, the Canon SD1400 IS is not a bad deal either at $150 each.
– One Canon SX210 IS 720/30p digicam: $250 (looking straight ahead at the subjects)
– Four cheap tripods: $100
– 2×250 Watt lights: $100 (like this one)
– One H4n mic: $300 (invisibly sitting on a tripod, in the middle of the two subjects). Some cheaper recorders that have a 3.5mm mic input cost just $30 (e.g. an Olympus or a Sony one). You can pair the recorder with the $50 Audio Technica ATR-6550 mic that has a tele-mode.
– A clapper: $10 (for audio sync)

(for the monologue, non-interview parts of the show)
– Two shoulder-rests: $90
– Two LED portable lights: $50 (like this one)
– Wearable mic, connected to the H4n: $30

Add some SD cards and extra batteries in there, and there you go, about $1500+tax. Put the cameras to record in custom “flat” mode (at their lowest sharpness, saturation, contrast setting, so you can ensure better color grading in post), set white balance, set and lock exposure compensation, and you’re good to go! I bet it will look and sound excellent.

Funnily, the TV screengrab above is the last one I grab off of Comcast. Today I canceled our Comcast cable TV service, going 100% with Netflix, Hulu, and Vimeo on my Roku box.